NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg will on Thursday confront Emmanuel Macron in Paris over the French president's claim the alliance is suffering "brain death", a charge that has set the stage for a testy NATO summit next week.
File photo: VCG
Macron delivered his damning assessment in an interview earlier this month with The Economist magazine, in which he lamented the lack of strategic coordination between Europe and the United States.
As further evidence that NATO is in decline, Macron cited NATO member Turkey's recent intervention against a Western-backed Kurdish militia that had been leading the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.
Stoltenberg immediately defended the 70-year-old alliance, which binds the US to defending Europe in the event of attack and vice-versa, and said he would travel to Paris to seek clarification from Macron.
"I think that's the best way to address any differences, to sit down and discuss them and to fully understand the messages and the motivations," he said.
Macron's remarks set the tone for a fractious gathering of NATO leaders in London on December 3-4.
A Macron aide said that on Thursday the president would discuss with Stoltenberg "the best way of raising the main issues in the current debate on NATO" at the summit.
These included "strengthening the unity of the alliance and the coordination of allies' actions" and "Europeans assuming more responsibilities within the alliance", the aide said.
Macron would also consult other NATO leaders in the run-up to the meeting in London, he added.
'No coordination whatsoever'
French officials have argued that by painting a picture of a moribund NATO, Macron, who has championed the idea of Europe taking charge of its own security, was just speaking the truth, however unpalatable.
But his remarks drew widespread criticism among allies.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned his "sweeping judgments", while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that "European unity cannot replace transatlantic unity".
At a ceremony Wednesday to sign a $1-billion contract to modernise NATO's fleet of AWACS reconnaissance planes, Stoltenberg again rejected the idea the alliance was outdated.
"NATO is adapting, NATO is agile, NATO is active and the modernisation of the AWACS aircraft is demonstrating the agility and the strength of NATO," he argued.
But in the Economist interview Macron said there was "no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies".
Reflecting on the "aggressive action" by Turkey in Syria, he declared: "What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO."
Macron also urged a rapprochement with Moscow, saying NATO needed to revisit its "unarticulated assumption is that the enemy is still Russia".
His remarks troubled NATO members in eastern and central Europe, notably Poland, that shook off Soviet domination at the end of the Cold War.